President Donald J. Trump says he wants a lawyer to probe “election theft,” but the president’s leading candidate, Sidney K. Powell, says she has been barred from the White House by the president’s own chief of staff.
While Powell and the president discussed the role last Friday in a contentious four-and-a-half-hour Oval Office meeting, she says, insiders opposed her appointment, sometimes shouting defiantly at the president. Powell’s on-the-record account reveals a White House riven by internal feuding, and a growing divide between the president’s most senior staff and his most devoted outside supporters.
By Saturday morning, Powell says, the president’s most senior aides had declined to give her a Secret Service-issued pass to come and go from the West Wing. “I’ve been blocked from speaking to or communicating with the president since I left the Oval Office on Friday night,” she says, “by apparently everyone around him.”
During the Zenger interview, conducted on video in a 7th-floor suite at the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC, Powell said she has had no contact with Trump since the Dec. 18 meeting.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany declined to comment on the record about whether any senior officials, including Chief of Staff Mark R. Meadows, National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien and White House Counsel Pat A. Cipollone, have intervened to keep Powell out of the White House. All three participated in Friday’s meeting, which devolved into chaos and finger-pointing about who was—or was not—serving Trump’s interests. Powell confirmed that former National Security Advisor Gen. Michael T. Flynn accompanied her to the Oval Office.
O’Brien and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph S. Giuliani participated via telephone. Other aides walked in and out of the Oval Office periodically; they could not be identified by Zenger’s reporting. A message to Giuliani seeking comment was not returned. Asked to confirm Giuliani took part, his attorney Bob Costello said, “I don’t know the answer to that.”
Trump said Tuesday in a videotaped statement that he would “pursue every legal and constitutional option available to stop the theft of the presidential election.” He tweeted Wednesday, “I disagree with anyone that thinks a strong, fast, and fair Special Counsel is not needed, IMMEDIATELY. This was the most corrupt election in the history of our Country, and it must be closely examined!” Only the U.S. attorney general can appoint a special counsel, but the president can appoint a special White House counsel who would have more limited powers and protections.
Does Sidney Powell have that job? “That is a good question!” she told Zenger News, laughing. She says she was verbally offered the job, but that senior officials from the Office of White House Counsel have prevented her from presenting the president with paperwork to make it official.
Meanwhile, she says, Meadows and others have blocked permission for her to visit the executive mansion or its nearby buildings. Senior officials have “thrown sand in the gears” of actions the president asked her to carry out, she says.
Powell challenged the accuracy of the anonymous accounts that appeared in major news outlets. There was no talk of “martial law,” or sending soldiers to seize ballot machines, she said, or holding a second round of elections in swing states. “I can tell you for sure,” she said, “that was not discussed in the Oval Office Friday night.”
Flynn said his recollection of the meeting matches Powell’s. “No one talked about martial law, no matter what some of the news reports say,” he told Zenger.
Such an appointment would hand Powell a top-level security clearance and 24-hour access to the White House, and likely put her in the same office suite as the White House Counsel — privileges she says some of the men who work closest to the Oval Office do not want her to have.
“It has not come to pass,” Powell says, “because it seems it was blocked after Friday night, or undone, or I’m not sure what you’d call it” by senior White House staff including, she suggested, Meadows and Cipollone.
Cipollone, Meadows and O’Brien argued strenuously against hiring Powell, she says, and warned of sharply negative reactions among the Washington-based press corps, and among members of Congress whose support Trump would need in the coming weeks if he had any hope of reversing the November 3 election results that made former Vice President Joseph R. Biden his successor-in-waiting.
Powell said intramural feuding squanders time that could be spent on investigations and court filings. “Sidney is a fantastic advocate,” Flynn said. “You know how POTUS says you should never give up no matter what? That’s Sidney. And that’s fantastic. We need more like her.”
Powell says her small team of privately funded attorneys are “still collecting evidence through fire hoses,” and that “thousands and thousands of people have stepped forward and given sworn statements” about irregularities they say they witnessed on Election Day. Powell declined to provide any new evidence of voter fraud, instead referring to previously published claims in a binder of material her staff provided to Zenger News two hours before the Dec. 23 interview. (You can read it here.)
Powell cited reports by the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency in October 2020 warning that Iran-backed hackers were “likely intent on influencing and interfering with the U.S. elections.” One report was updated on Election Day, saying the unnamed Iranians had infiltrated election websites and stolen voter registration data, later launching a “mass dissemination of voter intimidation emails to U.S. citizens.”
That same agency issued a Nov. 12 statement that “[t]he November 3rd election was the most secure in American history”—apparently undercutting Powell’s claims.
A similar federal report also cast doubt. “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised,” said the executive committee of the inter-agency Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council. That panel, formed in 2017 as claims swirled that Russia had infiltrated the 2016 election to benefit Trump, includes officials from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the National Association of Secretaries of State, the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED), the nonprofit Democracy Works and Electronic Registration Information Center and companies whose hardware and software are used in U.S. elections.
Powell on Wednesday did point to a little-known opinion issued Oct. 11 by federal judge Amy Totenberg, whom she mistakenly referred to as Nina Totenberg—the name of the National Public Radio host. (The two women are sisters.) Judge Totenberg, who sits on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, cited a risk of “stealth vote alteration or operational interference” in touchscreen voting devices sold by Dominion Voting Systems if they are not properly audited.
Those risks “are neither hypothetical nor remote under the current circumstances,” Totenberg wrote, adding that the machines can “deprive voters of their cast votes” by storing data in unverified digital QR codes, making any potential manipulation invisible to voters “at least until any portions of the system implode because of system breach, breakdown, or crashes.”
Powell says those exact kinds of crashes during vote-counting allowed Democratic election officials to begin “backfilling their vote [totals] with fraudulent ballots” while Dominion machines were disabled. “We can definitely show that the election system was sufficiently tampered with, with the aid of foreign influence, to flip any number of states,” she says.
Powell did not provide any evidence that the potential fraud Judge Totenberg identified in October materialized as actual fraud in November.
Powell wants Trump to order federal authorities to secure voting machines from both Republican- and Democrat-heavy districts in swing states, conduct forensic audits, and find out whether any of them were connected to the Internet on Election Day. Such Internet connections might allow remote actors to tamper with vote totals in real time.
Ballots on such Internet-linked machines, she says, are “invalid.”
As Americans prepared to mark Christmas Eve on Thursday, Trump tweeted from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach Florida: “VOTER FRAUD IS NOT A CONSPIRACY THEORY, IT IS A FACT!!!”
(Edited by Richard Miniter and Claire Swift. Videography by Chris Winter.)
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